“Managers are psychologists on the front line,” affirms senior lecturer Ambrozová

The managerial environment is full of stress and many difficult-to-manage psychological burdens. How Czech managers deal with stress in challenging situations was the topic of discussion with senior lecturer Eva Ambrozová, an expert in human development in complex environments and head of the Institute of Humanities at NEWTON College. Read about her advice for the leaders of Czech companies and why, according to her, managers are psychologically on the front line.

If you were to give one piece of advice from psychology to Czech managers, what would it be?

I would tell them they should work on their self-knowledge and self-development. This is the foundation.

Which personality types do you think most often become managers?

They’re people who are capable and willing to lead others. They know how to accept responsibility for others and the tasks given to them. They have a certain amount of dominance and, if they’re professionals, they know how to work with this on a situational basis.

If they have the right education and training, can anyone become a manager?

Education is double-edged. You may learn some approaches that aren’t compatible with your personality. You would then use the methods you learned that, at first glance, appear correct but prove to be counter-productive in the end. Thus, the people around us are unsatisfied and things also feel off to you. 

A manager should be aware of the strength of each person’s individuality and be respectful not only of other people but of themselves as well. In this, I see the basic prerequisite of a good manager in practice.

Do you see any differences between men and women in managerial positions? 

Before, I would have answered that there shouldn’t be any differences between them. Today, however, I lead men in a way that helps them maintain their masculine energy, and the same goes for women. Women in a managerial position shouldn’t pretend to be a man. They have other qualities at their disposal that are still good enough to get respect from men. Whereas, today’s managers are sometimes unsure of themselves, often hiding under the guise of narcissism and importance. And their ego plays a big role in how they behave. In the end, however, it’s possible they simply don’t understand their masculine energy. In this case, self-knowledge and the development of their natural potential and qualities would prove useful.

In your own words, what do you think makes a manager both loved and respected?

The basis is that the manager knows how to laugh, primarily at themselves. I believe humour to be important, especially for making light of challenging situations. They also need to be trustworthy. When managing people, trust is the foundation that helps us become what we would call a leader of quality. Not every manager is a leader. A leader is the one that people follow because they trust them. They’re also the one who takes full responsibility for themselves, their decisions as well as their team’s, and, of course, their work.

What advice would you give to managers who are in charge of a big team and are unable to think about anything but work, even in the evening or at the weekend?

I would tell them to make it clear which role they are fulfilling in the given situation. I would ask if they’re managers at home too, whether they give their partner, family, and even themselves enough space. I would advise them to ask themselves if the managerial position in their life is what fulfils them the most. And I would guide them to examine their mindset, to start reflecting on when their ego and feeling important enter their thoughts.

Then I would ask what is stopping them from exiting the managerial role and entering into another role, and whether there is fear or an uncontrollable obligation in the background. People often then realise that they can’t be responsible for everything. Sometimes, they can be afraid of having a normal life or they’re living the illusion of “better company”, which doesn’t enable them to be themselves because “that’s not what a real manager would ever allow.”

Would you agree that every boss should also be a little bit of a psychologist? 

I would say more than just a little. Managers are basically psychologists on the front line. They’re the ones making the decisions every day and working with people in the most varied of situations. So, a knowledge of psychology is their number one tool.

Which missteps do Czech managers most often make from the perspective of psychology?

They aren’t aware of their pattern of behaviour and methods for leading people, meaning they then resort to the already mentioned sense of superiority and importance. Others then don’t know how to enforce their decisions and are afraid to accept responsibility for themselves and others.

They also often reach for a technique in personality training that they end up using regardless of the people around them. They then apply the same approach to everything, to negative results. This is why we tell the students at NEWTON College to try different methods and verify that they work in practice, while also making sure to create their own style. No one style exists that we could say is the best and recommend to everyone. A leader has to be creative.

Can the effects of the old ways still be seen on managers today? For instance, methods from the days of socialism, or something they learned from their parents, or even their first boss?

All of us pick up behaviour patterns from our family and workplace, and the same goes for us creating new patterns. This is the precise reason why self-knowledge is so important for managers. In this way, they will understand the patterns of their own behaviour and experience. Maybe they’ll discover why they shout when they’re angry, or why they give up on a task when things don’t work out. It’s one thing to recognise patterns but another to start working on yourself and modify them. Not change them, but modify, because we’re talking about developing the skill of situational changeability. In cognitive management, we also call this mental mobility within the scope of the given situation.

Is that because we can’t change a deeply rooted pattern of behaviour just by snapping our fingers?

Exactly. We don’t even think about it. We’re used to functioning in some way, whether that’s as an individual or with other people. If I can’t take a good look at myself, it wouldn’t even occur to me that I could hurt someone, or block the potential of others by reacting to something in an inappropriate fashion.

It’s not until the moment I admit to myself that I’m operating by acquired patterns and begin to examine them, that I can accept change. The education system won’t make that change for you, rather an environment where you can figure it out on your own is needed. And it has to come from within because nobody else will make that change for you. At our school, we create these kinds of environments for the students.

What happens to managers who are stuck in a rut and keep dealing with the same disputes in their team? 

They can lose respect and perceptiveness for themselves and others. Many people end up sick, which is a kind of socially acceptable way to react when we’re unable to handle something. They can burn out, or lose their sense of purpose at work. Or they turn to alcohol or other addictive substances. They destroy themselves without even realising it. Internal dissatisfaction is either turned back at you or other people. Most often it drives away those closest to you, then continues on –  to your colleagues.

I would advise these people to reflect on their behaviour and experiences and, if needed, to speak with someone. I see this as the first step and the reflection that something isn’t as it should be.

It’s said that being able to read human emotions and behaviour and still react appropriately is one of the master’s tools for managers. Are Czech managers able to do this?

I can tell that the people who attend our study of Master Business Psychology in Management feel the need to work on themselves. As soon as they realise how much work they need to do on themselves, it only helps them to be that much more thoughtful of others. That much more able to connect with them and win them over. Even when they feel great pressure from their surroundings, they know how to deal with ever-changing situations, react to strong personalities within their team, and get along with people of a specific generation.

I see these people as professional managers who know that education is only the first level. They know being a good manager means turning the attention to yourself, to your inner core, and start developing your competence from here.

Up to now, what have you taken away from your students?

Great humility and respect towards another. Also, the fact that just because I’ve graduated with a degree in psychology and teach at a university doesn’t mean I’m better or more important. We’re all in this together to enrich, support, and develop one another.

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